Local bands talk about returning to the stage (in the column); Slowdown announces reopening…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , — @ 8:30 am March 5, 2021
Jon Taylor of Domestica’s funky get-down space.

The Slowdown announced Tuesday that they’re reopening in April. The plan calls for shows only on the main stage to make more room for social distancing as the pandemic begins to wind down. It’ll be a fun opportunity for smaller bands who are used to playing the small room to try the big stage and its massive sound and lighting system.

Their first show is April 2 featuring Journey cover band Recaptured followed by Two Drag Club April 9.

Slowdown joins The Waiting Room and Reverb, who announced late last month that their stages are reopening.

When will the majority of our favorite local indie acts be returning to stage? That was the subject of my March column in The Reader, which is online right here. I contacted a dozen local musicians to find out when they’re coming back, and their responses underscore their caution as COVID-19 is still very much with us in this community.

The story is in the printed edition of the paper, which should be in the racks around town now or very shortly. Check it out. And heck, you can also read it below:

What Are They Waiting For?

As COVID-19 retreats, the stage has been set. It’s the artists who have cold feet.

Last month I told you where some of the more important local stages for indie music stand in regard to booking shows. A year after the pandemic began, places like The Slowdown, The Waiting Room and Reverb Lounge are reopening their stages. And while it’ll be some time before touring bands hit the road again, local acts are invited to plug in and rock on.

The only thing stopping that from happening are the bands themselves. I reached out to a dozen local musicians to find out when they’d play again on a local stage. Their answers reflected a serious respect for COVID-19.

Jon Taylor, lead guitarist for Lincoln-based seminal punk trio Domestica, is waiting for folks to get vaccinated. “Based on current vaccine shipping schedules, summer appears to be the earliest anyone should consider assembling large groups of humans for any reason,” Taylor said. He’s passed the pandemic time rocking out on his own glittering basement stage where, “I’m able to self-medicate with high volume until gigs happen.”

Domestica has been known to share a stage with Wagon Blasters, the tractor-punk powerhouse fronted by the inimitable Gary Dean Davis. Those with a sense of history will remember how these folks’ previous bands — Mercy Rule and Frontier Trust — were integral to Nebraska’s first wave of indie punk almost 30 years ago.

Davis has spent his downtime focusing on his record label — SPEED! Nebraska — which reissued Frontier Trust’s debut CD in June and released a new Mezcal Bros. album, Shakin’ Dog, in September.

“As Joe Strummer famously said, ‘The future is unwritten,’” Davis said. “Hopefully things can calm down over the summer, (and) we are able to return to playing shows. Maybe we’ll need to start off outside to keep everyone safe?”

Wagon Blasters bandmate, bassist Kate Williams, said while she would be comfortable on stage once vaccinations have reached the majority, “It will be strange to return to the small, intimate venues that I love, where the audience is right on top of the band.”

Williams hasn’t seen Davis or her other bandmates in person in a year. “Many of us are high-risk (or high-risk-adjacent) and aren’t comfortable practicing in an enclosed basement yet with each other, let alone playing in a room full of friends that we also haven’t seen in the last year,” she said. “It will happen though — I miss all of it so much!”

Caution also was the theme for legendary bassist/musician Dereck Higgins. “I’ll be 66 in July, and that is why I am being cautious and in no hurry to get out in the public gigging,” he said, pointing to fall for a possible return. In the meantime, he’s been recording new music and working on an art project with local choreographer Lauren Simpson.

Craig Fort of punk band Leafblower created an entirely new, outlaw-country-infused musical persona called Lightning Stills during the pandemic. “Obviously COVID is keeping us from booking anything, as well as neither project has been in the same room together in a year,” Fort said. “We all take this very seriously. Not being able to play shows is what’s keeping me from releasing anything physical. Without shows, I don’t have a booth to peddle my goods.”

Indie rockers See Through Dresses frontwoman Sara Bertuldo said her band is still together, “but we’re just focusing on different things at the moment. Some of us are back in school, focusing on work, and/or learning some new skills.” And she added, “We’ve also been working on our third album!”

One of my favorite songs released during the pandemic is “Snake in my Basement,” an infectious (in a good way) garage rocker by Those Far Out Arrows. Guitarist/vocalist Ben Keelan-White thinks his band will be back on stage possibly in early- to mid-summer.

“Outdoor shows seem more likely, but maybe some indoor venues might be willing to make some moves,” he said. “I feel like there is an optimism with more vaccine administration on the horizon. Nobody wants to be a part of a spreader event, but I think the type of individuals who want shows back would be absolutely willing to take the utmost precaution needed to go forward.”

“We’re all dying for shows, but nobody should die for shows,” said Aaron Gumm, half of the red hot electronic rock duo Glow in the Dark. “My parents in Iowa get their second shot next week, and my sister in Austin got her first today. Things are moving in the right direction.”

Some aren’t waiting to return to the stage. Josh Hoyer, one of the area’s best blues and soul voices, played a Sunday residency Feb. 21 at The Jewell in downtown Omaha.

“It wasn’t an easy decision, but it came down to me needing to get back to work and the venues needing to start getting people in or shutting down for good.” Hoyer said. “At this point, I am trusting people to do what is best for their health and the health of the community. So far, everything has been good, but the moment I feel that there is too much risk in any given venue, I will have to reassess my involvement with them. I think if people are intelligent about it, we can slowly get back to live entertainment.”

Darren Keen, the mastermind behind The Show Is the Rainbow and now a new electronic act, Problems, has a gig booked on St. Patrick’s Day at Boombox Social Club in Lincoln.

“As long as people are masked up and distanced, I’m OK with it at this point,” Keen said. “I’m still hesitant to book my own shows because I can’t honestly say, ‘You gotta come to this gig’ right now. I respect that people want to stay home and safe, and so if I can’t promote things 100% I’m not comfortable booking them.”

I saved the final word for Landon Hedges of one of my all-time favorite indie rock bands, Little Brazil. Hedges doesn’t know when he’ll be back on stage.

“It’s a matter of responsibility and feeling comfortable in the sort of environment that I’m used to playing a show or going to a show,” he said. “I want to do both. But this virus isn’t about me or what I want to do. I just want to try to do the right thing. It fucking sucks. You can quote me on that one.”

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com. First published in The Reader, March 2021.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2021 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The British are coming, the British are coming…; new Calm Fur; Dumb Beach tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 1:00 pm August 18, 2015

Dumb Beach at O'Leaver's, Feb. 21, 2015.

Dumb Beach at O’Leaver’s, Feb. 21, 2015. The band returns to O’Leaver’s tonight.

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

We can all rest a little easier knowing that the British people now know about O’Leaver’s. And The Waiting Room. And The Barley Street. And Duffy’s…

About a month ago, an editor from British Airways online publications reached out and asked me to write 500 to 600 words about the fabled Nebraska music scene, listing the music venues for Brits to visit while in Nebraska. It’s part of their “50 States in 52 Weeks” series featured on British Air’s High Life website (an amazingly appropriate name considering the patrons who hang out at our clubs). A bunch of bands are name-checked, too…

The British Airways piece went online a few days ago; you can read it here. Note: I wasn’t  involved in the page layout, design or photo selection.

NOTE TO webmasters of the clubs’ websites: Brace yourselves for the torrential traffic wave bound to hit your servers at any moment…

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Calm Fur, the latest project fronted by Jason Meyer (Talking Mountain) has a new four-song EP out today called The Collection of Human Energy to be Used for Evil.

Sez Meyer: “We just played Denver Psych Fest and this was a little EP we put together just for that. Minimal physical copies exist, along with minimal fanfare for release. We’re working on a proper record and sort of treating this as a… demo. A sneak. A peek.

Calm Fur is playing Duffy’s backlot show on Aug. 29 with Deerpeople and Universe Contest before going into hibernation to finish their new record. Check out the EP below…

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Tonight at fabulous O’Leaver’s it’s the return of Dumb Beach. They open for Brooklyn garage rock trio Sharkmuffin and New Yorkers Lost Boy? $5, 9:30 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Missing Pleasure Adapter and the Nebraska churn; a quiet post-holiday weekend…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 9:53 am July 5, 2013

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

chimesO’Leaver’s needs those chimes they use at large theatrical stage productions, the tri-tone bells that indicate intermission is almost over, stub out your cigarette, finish your drink and get back to your seat because the next act is about to begin.

Wednesday night I was outside talking shit with a couple friends, just enjoying the night after a nice set of embraceable punk from touring band Toys That Kill. We got carried away arguing about R.E.M. when I figured out the next band had begun their set. It can be hard to discern between live music and the club’s super-loud house music that plays between sets. “Well, have to catch Pleasure Adapter,” I said, cutting it short. He concurred and we made our way into the club only to discover a couple people rolling on the “stage” floor fiddling with something technical.

That’s when frontman Jeff Ankenbauer announced he’d had it, the set was over. He had a baby waiting for him at home and didn’t have time to deal with what appeared to be a blown amp. It couldn’t have been 10 minutes into their set, but that was it, I’d missed it. I’ve seen Pleasure Adapter before so it wasn’t a huge loss, but there had been a lot of people there to see them Wednesday night who hadn’t. As I was leaving, I ran into one of those people, a local veteran from a number of touring bands, and asked what he thought. “Kind of punk to end the set that way,” he said. “Then again, maybe not.”

O’Leaver’s is turning into thee place for bands to debut. Two new bands will be debuting there in August consisting of members who crawled from the wreckage of fallen bands (including The Stay Awake and Conduits). As my musician friend suggested, bands need to be able to “sell out” or at least “pack” O’Leaver’s before heading to The Waiting Room or Slowdown. The nice thing about O’Leaver’s is that it doesn’t matter if anyone shows up, he said, the guys that run the club don’t care. Maybe that’s true.

There seems to be a lot of “churn” going on musicwise in Omaha, a changing of the guard. Bands like Pleasure Adapter, Coaxed, Gordon, The Dad, Worried Mothers, See Through Dresses, Twinsmith are establishing a new beach head alongside first-tier next wavers like Universe Contest, Digital Leather, So-So Sailors, Solid Goldberg and Eli Mardock and current flavors from Saddle Creek like Icky Blossoms, Big Harp and Mynabirds. These bands, along with a few that I haven’t mentioned either because I haven’t seen them or simply forgot to, are redefining Nebraska music while the old ghosts — Oberst/Desa, Kasher/Cursive, The Faint — carry on a tradition they started, like a pack of tenured professors with the hard part behind them.  Meanwhile, we wait for the next break-out indie band to catch fire outside of Nebraska. And we wait, and we wait, and it may never happen…

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It’s another quiet weekend show-wise, especially from a touring band perspective.

If the weather holds out, I might ride up to The Waiting Room tonight to see John Klemmensen and the Party open for Tara Vaughan. Also on the bill are Tenderness Wilderness and Michael Wunder. $7, 9 p.m.

It’s Benson First Friday, by the way.

Over at The Barley Street, Underwater Dream Machine  (Who I’m told has an amazing set of new music) plays with Island Alumni. $5, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at fabulous O’Leaver’s, Saturn Moth plays with Small Houses. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Saturday night at Barley Street Blue Bird plays with The Ground Tyrants and Sam Vicari. Ten O’Clock Scholars headlines. $5, 9 p.m.

And that’s about it. Let me know if I missed anything in the comments section…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.